fundraising planPeople ask me all the time “what should be in my fundraising plan?”

I find that most people who don’t have a plan just don’t know where to start or what to include.

When I give them my simple answer, they don’t trust it at first.

For some reason, they seem to want to make it hard. They think a fundraising plan should be this massively complicated thing. And it doesn’t have to be.

Start with a goal. Actually 3 goals. Then fill in the “how” to reach those goals.

Three top goals for your fundraising plan

If you want it to be successful, your fundraising plan should include these top 3 goals:

  • Total amount of money to raise
  • Number of donors to renew
  • Number of donors to acquire

Some people include the first one. Most leave out the other two. Why?

Because they’re too focused on the money.

Let’s look at each of these more closely.


Goal #1 – Total amount of money to raise

This seems straight forward to me – you need to know how much to raise so your nonprofit can deliver its programs. But apparently not everyone sees it that way.

Here are two ways you can get in trouble with this goal.

1. Doing it backwards. Don’t go try to raise all the money you can THEN figure out how to spend it. That’s the tail wagging the dog. Decide what programs you want to deliver, then figure out what it will cost. THAT’S how much you need to raise.

2. Vague goal. Be specific – down to the penny – how much you need to raise. Why? If you don’t have a clear goal, how will you know how much to ask for? How will you know when you’ve crossed the finish line?

I had a client several years ago with an $11 million budget. When I asked him how much he wanted to raise, he said “more than last year.” Seriously? I was stunned. How much is ‘more?’ A dollar more? A million more?You will NEVER fully fund your budget with vague goals. So be specific and measurable.


Goal #2 – Number of donors to renew

Donor retention is something that not near enough people pay attention to, yet it’s critical to long-term fundraising success.

Across the board, donor retention rates are awful right now, running about 35%. That means if you start the year with 100 donors, you’ll end the year with 35.

What’s happening to people? Where are they going?

Here’s my theory: You lose some donors because they move away and give to nonprofits in their new community. You lose some donors because they pass away and can no longer give. But you lose MOST donors because they simply go away – they don’t feel connected to your mission or they don’t feel appreciated or needed, and they decide that the nonprofit down the road will be more fun to give to.

This one you can fix.

As you’re creating your fundraising plan, be sure that you’re including plenty of activities to connect with donors and help them feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Make sure you’re making more deposits than withdrawals into therelationship account.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and says “I feel like giving some money away. Where’s the yellow pages? I gotta find a nonprofit!”  It’s YOUR job to give people a reason to care and invite them to give again.


Goal #3 – Number of donors to acquire

We just established that you’re going to lose donors. Every year. That means if you’re average, you need to bring in 65 new donors just to break even at the end of the year (remember, you’re only retaining 35).

Then the question becomes “Where do we find new donors?”

The best place to start is with those closest to your organization and work out. Invite staff and volunteers to give. Your Board should already be giving. Ask everyone to invite their friends to give. Ask your program participants to give.

When you’re just starting to look for donors, it can feel overwhelming. Hang in there with it and be persistent, and it won’t take long to see the fruits of your labor.

fundraising plan

When you get clear about these three goals, you can then start choosing fundraising strategies that move you toward them. ONLY do those things that help you raise money, retain donors or get new ones.

That’s when you’ll see your plan become success right before your eyes.

Fundraising.  Resource Development.  It’s the same thing, right?  Or is it?

Many people use these terms interchangeably, but I think there’s a significant difference, especially for folks working in a small shop.  When you’re overworked and maybe overwhelmed, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of raising money.  You need the dollars, right?  Gotta make budget, right?

Programs can’t be delivered without funds, right?

Right, right, and right.

Except that sometimes it’s wrong to focus just on the dollars.

Fundraising is about raising money however you can.

Development is about building relationships with people who give because they believe in the work your nonprofit is doing. The deeper the relationship, the more they give.


Where’s the problem here?

Consider these situations:


Case A: The Executive Director of a small nonprofit is responsible for everything – administration, fundraising, supporting the Board, and overseeing operations.  The organization hosts a variety of small fundraising events during the year, which generate some publicity and attract lots of people through ticket sales.

Case B:  A regional nonprofit produces a very popular 5K race that is highly anticipated each year among area runners.  A local restaurant is the main sponsor and provides a lavish picnic at the end of the race to all the runners.

Case C: A well-known and respected local organization sends out an annual direct mail piece in the Fall.  The appeal brings in a small amount of money, which goes directly toward the bottom line of its annual fundraising campaign.


This all sounds good right?

Except that it’s not.  In each of these cases, money is being raised.  But that’s about it. None of these activities are sustainable they way they are.  None are being leveraged to their capacity.  And none are creating relationships with donors which is the core of sustainable fundraising.


Here’s the rest of the story.

Case A: This organization has gotten itself on the special event hamster wheel.  In the absence of knowledge, the Board focuses on events.  That’s all the members know how to do so that’s what they do.  And while the community supports each of the small events, many people consider their ticket purchase as their “gift” to the organization, which leaves no room for individual donor development.  And frankly, some people in the community are getting tired of all the events (not to mention how tired the staff is of working on them!).

What Development might look like:  If this organization cut out half of its events and instead spent the time on developing relationships with its best individual donor prospects, it would come out way ahead in the long run.  All these events don’t provide sustainable funding for the organization and the important work it does in the community. Committed individual donors would give this nonprofit a strong base of support.  Individuals who feel a connection to the organization and a loyalty to its mission will give year after year.  It’s like having a group of good friends who will stick with you no matter what.


Case B: At first glance, this seems like a good event.  But when you consider staff time in the budget, this event could be losing money or at best breaking even (which is very common with this kind of event). Also consider that the audience is very limited, and that people typically sign up for races to improve their personal running time, not necessarily to support the cause.

What Development might look like:  This organization needs to go one of two ways: either modify the event to appeal to a wider audience or stop doing the event.  To modify the event, the nonprofit might add a walk, encouraging participants to seek pledges and focusing on how the money from the event will make a difference. This will help increase both the quantity and quality of participants. With careful strategy, the walk participants can become donors to the organization.


Case C: This is a case of smoke and mirrors.  The organization is so focused on hitting their annual fundraising goal that they count every dollar they possibly can add in the total.  Their direct mail appeal isn’t particularly well done and goes out to a list of people who aren’t regularly communicated with.

What Development might look like: The result is a lackluster response, and when you look at the expenses, the nonprofit is losing money on this activity.  The organization needs to do a better job overall of cultivating relationships with donors, including keeping them updated about the work being done in the community to change lives.  A strong appeal mailed after a series of meaningful communications will likely generate significantly more revenue for the organization. The real lesson here is to focus on the nonprofit relationships. Communicate, share, tell stories, and help the donor feel good about their decision to give. Don’t just show up in their mailbox or inbox with your hand out all the time.


In each of these scenarios, looking at just the dollars raised doesn’t reveal the whole story.  These activities are focused on the immediate money raised and are considered fundraising activities.  In order to build for the future, each organization needs to shift its focus away from fundraising and instead pay attention to development – developing donor relationships which lead to long-term sustainability.

It’s Halloween week and to celebrate, I’ve got a treat for you – scary stories that some of my readers have shared with me about their experiences working in nonprofit fundraising.

Some of these are crazy. Some will make you shake your head in disbelief. Others might even make you wonder what kind of a world we live in.

Chances are good you’ve experienced something similar. I find that it’s not “if” it’s “when” you’ll run across a donor that drives you crazy, pushes your buttons, or makes you question your sanity.

I wish the world was simple and people would just help nonprofits fulfill their mission. But unfortunately, some people have hidden agendas or want lots of attention, and things can get ugly – fast!

It just goes to show you we all endure a lot for our work. And thank God we’re all hanging in there – otherwise, where would this world be?

Critical and Uncaring

About 8-9 years ago, we had MAJOR sound system issues at our big fundraising dinner. Of course, it was during my speech!
The room was too big and cavernous for me to be heard without a sound system, so I was trying my best to stay calm and joke around while they tried to fix it. The fellow we had there to play the piano jumped up and started playing something that he knew I could sing. (I have sung semi-professionally for more than 20 years.) Song ended…still no sound system.
So, I got up to the podium and decided that I would speak as loudly as possible and finish my speech. I knew for every minute you run past your stated ending time, you lose lots of $$$. As if the evening couldn’t get worse, as I stood there trying to give my message, my necklace broke, with many, many tiny beads rolling all over the floor. Still no sound system. I drew my speech to the most dignified close that I could think of and sat down.
When we got the table host critiques, one woman said that I made a fool of myself and they hoped that I never again had a microphone put in my hand! She then offered to sign me up for public-speaking lessons! I was dancing as fast as I can up there and apparently, she thought I had the whole thing set up! I never did get that necklace put back together.
Eva P., Executive Director

Terrible Tantrum

I had a woman call me all the way from Connecticut (we are a small rescue in rural Georgia.) She said she was interested in one of our dogs. I explained where we are located and as it says on our website we cannot transport, but if it is the right home we can give them information on transport. She was irate and yelled and told me off for not caring enough to find a way to get the dog to her and that she would never support us and even though she had a lot of money I would never see any of it since I would not help her.
It was very upsetting, but luckily I too have been growing and since I have received this kind of thing before I was able to shake it off and find the dog a good home locally. For me the hardest thing is when you work so many hours and try so hard and the only response is people accusing us of not caring enough. We do what we can do and move on.
Carrie M., Past President


Bizarrely Blunt 

The other day a donor stopped me after mass and said to me, “I just sent you a note.  I am not coming to your banquet. I am attending another one and giving my donation to them.” Interesting how she made it a point to come tell me this even though she had just said all of that in a note that was on its way to me. I had to try really hard not to dislike her because I have always liked her up until this point.  She got “blessed and let go.”  Clearly, she’s not my tribe.
Nancy K., Founder

Angry About Alcohol

There is a local church that had supported us for years with monthly giving until I received a very hateful CHRISTMAS CARD telling us they would no longer be supporting us because of a fundraiser we had involving a local brewery. I reached out to them several times to try and meet with them, and they would not even respond to me. Fortunately, they were the exception and not the rule – other churches couldn’t have cared less. Also (and fortunately!), I was able to talk my Board down from banning alcohol at any of our events. I’m glad to say we have a wine tasting event coming up soon, and many of our church friends are first in line for tickets!
Amy G. S., Executive Director

Fuming over “Failure to Focus”

Our hate mail was from a prospective volunteer.  We initiated contact with her and then the Butte fire caused us to evacuate and concentrate on taking in burned and orphaned domestic and wild animals.  When we contacted her again to set up a meeting just 3 weeks after her initial contact she said she was no longer interested and questioned our commitment.  I explained that our contact person had a full-time job and a firefighter husband, and that we were busy with the fire.  She continued to berate us for not having contacted her sooner about her helping us with our Twitter account.  We hit DELETE on such a negative person becoming a volunteer with our dedicated group!
Most people are so positive that we need to remind ourselves to remove ourselves from the negative ones to avoid becoming one.
Susan M.

Irate and Indignant

I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of hate mail we received at Best Friends from people who just couldn’t understand why we thought animals were more important than human beings, or the environment, or foreign policies, or anything else under the sun (we didn’t of course, it just wasn’t our mission to save everything and everyone.  You have to have somefocus and directi on right?).
While I found those letters bizarre in nature (did you really take time out of your day to bash an organization for existing?), the ones that came after we had taken in a large amount of the dogs that were rescued from Michael Vick’s dog fighting compound in Virginia were so much worse.  People couldn’t understand why we were wasting time on these “damaged” dogs, these “vicious killers”, while there were children starving and in need of comfort and essentials.  And then we even started receiving hate mail from our own kind!  Rescues, animal shelters and animal lovers from all over wanted to know why we were using all of these resources to save these “throwaways”, when so many others could be saved in their place that didn’t need as much attention and long term care.  Excuse me?  Aren’t we in the business of saving animals and making a difference?
Fast forward a few years, and as it turns out, this single case brought more attention to the issue of dog fighting and was able to substantiate the need for more aggressive laws for this crime, eventually seeing dog fighting become a felony federal offense in all 50 states.   And these dogs, the ones no one else wanted to give a chance to… with a bit of patience and affection (neither of which they’d ever received prior) were able to be adopted into homes and become some of the best ambassadors for the cause.  They changed the way that fight bust dogs were viewed all across our nation – they were no longer seen as damaged goods that needed to be exterminated – they were now viewed as what they have always been… victims, and are assessed and given the same chance as any other dog confiscated from cruelty.  Hey naysayers!  Still think we wasted time on those dogs?
Fact is, there will always be “those people”.  I don’t really waste my breath on them.  We have plenty of supporters in animal welfare.  Those are the ones I want to be sure I talk to.  If they’re in my face, I “kill ‘em with kindness” and move on.
Jamie H., Grants Administrator

Unnecessarily Nasty

I had a really awful reaction from a donor when I worked at a hospice in England.  I was very new to the organization and was their one and only events fundraiser (part of this was supporting people who wanted to organize their own events- everything from a Bingo night to a bike ride across the country).  A donor, a woman whose husband was very, very ill and receiving care at the hospice, wanted to organize an event.  Before calling me she took it upon herself to create her own sponsorship form and approach the paper about her event, really letting us know seemed to be secondary, an afterthought.  She did not inform me that her husband was a very seriously ill patient initially, so in speaking with her I didn’t take into account that she was under a huge amount of strain.  I learned much later that she had cared for him during a degenerative illness for years before he’d become a patient.
It was such a simple matter- one of using hospice-issued sponsor forms which was a safe guard to us and to her- and our conversation about this that she started yelling and I mean yelling over the phone.  The conversation ended with me giving her my manager’s number and her telling me she was going to get me fired.
My manager was great, and seemed to assuage the situation, but it dragged on for over a year.  The donor refused to have anything to do with me even after I apologized in writing and in person.  A couple of months later when her husband passed away, I sent her a card with condolences from me and her local fundraiser, even after this I was still hearing from ward nurses that she “hated” me and the Hospice should’ve fired me when they had the chance. In fact, there was a subsequent letter to my manager requesting “executive action” be taken against me! Never before or after had I felt like I had no control over a situation, I tried every way I could to re-c0nnect with this person, to no avail.  I still have no idea what I could’ve done to get back on her good side.
Brooke B., Development Officer

Thanks to everyone who shared their story. I received SO MANY that I couldn’t use them all. These are some of the most outrageous and the ones I thought you’d enjoy reading.

One of the first questions Fundraising Newbies ask me is “How can I get grants to fund my organization?”

They’ve heard of other nonprofits getting grants and they want their share, too.


I don’t like to see anyone leave grant money on the table. In other words, I like to see nonprofits getting all the grant money they can.

And that takes some planning and strategy.

grant bookIn “Grantsmanship: Program Planning & Proposal Writing” by Norton J. Kiritz, you’ll find a wealth of practical advice and ideas for getting grants.

What I like most about the book is that it’s full of sample language, checklists, and stories that make it interesting and give the reader ideas about what they can do immediately to get more grants.

I was fortunate to get a copy of the book from Barbara Floersch at the Granstmanship Center to review. Here are some of the things I highlighted in my copy:


  • Establishing credibility with a funder is an important step and can set the stage for getting funded. Lots of nonprofits skip this and go straight to talking about their programs. Early in the book, there’s a section on how to do this in a grant proposal.


  • New nonprofits can be at a disadvantage when it comes to getting grants. Lots of foundations look for nonprofits with at least a few years of experience. In the book, there are several ideas for ways that new nonprofits can give themselves a boost in getting grant money.


  • Describing the problem being addressed trips up lots of nonprofits. Sometimes, people get in a hurry and try to slap a proposal together without really thinking through each section. Being clear about the problem and the cause of the problem, and being able to accurately communicate it in writing can give great strength to your proposal. The book helps the reader distinguish between the problem and its cause, and understand what data will best support the proposal’s request.


  • Outcomes are a hot topic these days. Years ago, you could ask for funding from a foundation with a message of “trust us” and get money. Well, no more. Today, you need to be able to accurately describe what you’ll do with a funder’s money and what outcomes you’ll achieve. Funders want to know what they’re getting for their investment in your nonprofit. The book has a whole section on outcomes to help the reader understand how to best talk about them, and how they’re different from programs. There’s also a section on Logic Models with examples to help the reader understand how they can be used in a grant proposal.


  • Lots of people who work in nonprofit claim that they aren’t a ‘numbers person’ and use that as an excuse to avoid creating a solid budget to include with their grant proposal. Unfortunately, these folks don’t usually get the grant. A budget tells the story in numbers while the narrative tells the story in words. In the book, there’s a great section on creating a budget, along with what should go in the budget, justifying what you’ve included, and what indirect expenses can be included. There are several templates and examples in this section to make it easy for the numbers novice to get a handle on this important section.


If you either want to write grants and haven’t gotten started or are currently writing grants but not getting as much funding as you’d like, I recommend you get your hands on a copy of this book. There’s a lot of wisdom for you to gain in a couple of hundred pages.


The book is laid out well and is easy to read. I’m sure you’ll refer back it often as you perfect your own grantwriting skills.


Get yours at

antique golden door key isolated on white background

Let me share some fundraising truth with you.

You need money to fund your program.

You need donors to give you money.

Nonprofit donors need to trust you to give you money.

So, you need to build trust with donors.

You know what I’m talking about here, right? Relationships.

Most fundraisers know they need to develop relationships with donors, but can’t seem to get moving with it.

And it’s getting in their way of raising big money.

After all, it’s the donors who feel most connected with our cause who give the biggest gifts.

Seems to me that the biggest ROI you can get with fundraising is to help donors feel a strong connection with your nonprofit’s work.

I see three things that are in the way of building these strong relationships.


  • Don’t know where to start
  • Aren’t sure how to build relationships without feeling manipulative
  • Can’t seem to carve out the time to begin

Sound familiar?

I remember when I was a Development Director that I got the concept of relationship building and was willing to do it. I just didn’t know what to do.

The first time I took a donor to lunch, I felt so awkward because I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do or say, and I didn’t want to screw it up. Fortunately, I decided to just relax and talk with her, and it worked out just fine.

How relationships grow

Think for a minute about the close relationships in your life. When you first met them, you probably weren’t best friends from the get-go. It takes time and effort to get to know someone and develop a lasting relationship.

On top of that, we do it without thinking about it. We simply hang out with people we like. The more we like them, the more time we want to spend with them.

So, if we break it down into steps, relationship building looks like this:

  • First meeting. We meet someone and we feel some spark, either friendship or something more.
  • Attraction. There’s something about that person that we’re drawn to and we want to spend more time with them.
  • Exploration. We start looking for common interests and subsequently start to spend more time together.
  • Connection. After finding commonalities, we start to feel connected to them. They get us and we get them, and we enjoy their company.
  • Deepening. The more we learn about them, the more we like them. And we start to care about them.
  • Commitment. At some point, we become committed to the person and the relationship. We value it and it brings us joy, and we’re willing to do what it takes to make the other person happy.

I think that pretty much sums up what happened when I met my husband, and I would bet it was similar for lots of people, maybe even you.

Now, get this: it isn’t that different with donor relationships. You’re just building the relationship on purpose instead of letting it grow organically.

The good news here is that you know more about growing relationships than you thought you did. Cool?


The relationship account

Imagine that you have an emotional bank account with each donor.

Each time you ask for money, you’re withdrawing points from the account.

When you help your donor feel good about their decision to support your nonprofit or when you tell them a story that moves them, you’re adding points to the account.

You don’t have to be an accountant to understand that if all you do make withdrawals, it won’t take long before you’re in the hole and the account is closed.

This is why donor retention rates are so bad right now! Most nonprofit fundraisers are so focused on the money, they don’t think about the people who are giving the money. They’re neglecting to make deposits into the account, and donors are tired of being an ATM.

The good news here is that it’s easily fixed: make more deposits than withdrawals.

I spent the day with a client on Sunday and we mapped out her next few months on a giant calendar so she could see everything at a glance. We put newsletters, appeals, and all kinds of fundraising stuff on the calendar using a different colored sticky note for each activity.

We were able to easily see which activities were adding points to the relationship account and which ones were taking points out, and it became very clear how important her e-newsletter is to her overall fundraising. It’s that newsletter that is adding points to the relationship account. If she doesn’t get that newsletter out, her donors will probably get tired of her requests for money very quickly. And if she’s going to hit her fundraising goals for the rest of 2015, she can’t afford to lose any donors because they feel over-asked.

It’s all about strategy and planning. You’ll never be able to keep enough points in the relationship account if you’re always in reactive mode and making decisions at the last minute about which activities to pursue.


Ideas for adding points

How exactly can you add points to the relationship account?

It’s easier than you think.

Help your donor feel good about their decision to give.

  • Send a prompt, warm, sincere thank-you letter that tells the donor how much you appreciate their gift and that you’ve set it to work.
  • Send a juicy, donor-focused email newsletter at least once a month and include a story about a life that’s been changed by your nonprofit’s work.
  • Post regularly on social media telling stories, sharing interesting facts and video.
  • DON’T bore them with long, detailed history, back-stories and letters from the Executive Director.

One thing I’ve noticed about relationships is that people only stay in them while they’re getting something out of them. When we get turned off, we break the relationship off. Want to keep your donors? Make sure they’re still getting something good.

Relationships grow at the speed of trust. The more you give donors reasons to trust you, the happier they’ll be and the more they’ll give.

Want to learn more about Donor Relationships? It’s one of the basics of good fundraising that you need to master if you want to fully fund your nonprofit’s work. I’ll be teaching this and more in a brand-new training called Founding to Funding. I’ll show you how to surround yourself with ideal donors, share words that warm their heart, and ask for a gift at just the right time. Get all the details and register at

There are two ways to raise more money: get more/bigger gifts from the donors you’ve already got and go find new donors.
Both of those get incredibly easier when you’re nonprofit donor centered.
Being donor centered means you pay more attention to the nonprofit donor than you do to their money. In other words, you value the relationship over the donation.
It’s like the goose that laid the golden egg – take care of the donor and they’ll keep giving.
When you’re donor centered, you’ll actually attract more donors, like moths to a flame. People love being appreciated and valued. When you’re not donor centered, you’ll repel donors. People can go to any department store and be treated like a nameless, faceless money source.
It seems like more nonprofits would practice donor-centered fundraising, yet so few actually do it.
Why is that?
My theory is that they’re too busy trying to keep their head above water. Staff are trying to just get through the day. They’re overworked and underpaid, and have more on their plate than they can possibly get done. And most people, when faced with that, just slug away at the “to do” list trying to get things done instead of stopping to make sure they’re working on the right things in the first place.
What if you only did the things on your list that deepened relationships with your donors? What would change?
And what are those things?

Being donor centered vs self centered

Here’s a glimpse at what it looks like when a nonprofit is donor centered.

Donor-Centered Nonprofit Self-Centered Nonprofit
Gets thank-you letters out within a day or two of the receipt of the gift. Makes sure the letter is warm and sincere, and has a live signature on it.


Gets thank-you letters out when there’s enough to make a good batch. Sometimes that’s once or twice a month.
Consistently publishes a story-rich newsletter with content that’s interesting and relevant to the donor. Includes great, heart-warming photos and updates on what the donors’ gifts have made possible. Slaps a newsletter together occasionally, but it’s inconsistent and not really a priority since it doesn’t raise any money. Includes blurbs on things that are easy to write about (but donors don’t really care about) like bios of new Board members and new staff members.


Makes sure that all communications to donors are easy to read and understand. They’re warm, friendly, and conversational, with no jargon and lots of white space. Good graphics and photos are used to make the piece easy to skim.


Uses lots of jargon and acronyms in communications with donors, usually because they’re in a hurry and don’t stop to think about how donors may not understand “insider” language.


Sends out several appeals each year asking donors to support the impact the organization is making. Appeals feature stories of lives being changed and are easy to read with a clear call to action.


Sends out one (maybe two) appeals each year and asks donors to support the annual fund. Appeals are vague and don’t specifically ask for money. Donors may be left wondering what they’re supposed to do.


Focuses on relationships. Carefully considers how everything builds trust with donors and prospects.


Focuses on money. Constantly trying things to bring in donations without considering how donors might feel or respond.



Tips for being more donor centered

Before you beat yourself up for not being as donor centered as you’d like, know that this is new territory for you. Understanding you have room to improve is the first step. The second step is committing to improving (ready to do that?). And the third step is finding a place to start.
Let me give you some tips to help you be more donor centered.

1. Decide to become more donor focused and mean it. Placing a priority on donor relationships will help you focus, which means you’ll spend more time thinking about it. If you keep it in front of you at all times, it will get easier and easier until it becomes second nature to think of your donors first.
2. Commit to donor-centered communications. Before you write, think about what the donor is interested in, not what’s easy to write about. What will make their heart sing? Donor-centered appeals and newsletters are way more successful than self-centered ones, because they give the donor a reason to care and an idea of what their money will be used for.
3. Create a plan to cultivate relationships. Don’t wing it. Instead, get clear about how you’d like to see donor relationships grow overall, then think about specific donors and how you’d like those relationships to develop.
Creating a donor-centered culture of fundraising takes time and effort, but the payoff is way worth it. When you pay attention to your donors and care about them instead of their money, you’ll likely see donations increase.

And isn’t that what you want in the first place?
Want to learn more about becoming donor-centered? It’s one of the basics of good fundraising that you need to master if you want to fully fund your nonprofit’s work. I’ll be teaching this and more in a brand-new training called Founding to Funding. I’ll show you how to surround yourself with ideal donors, share words that warm their heart, and ask for a gift at just the right time. Get all the details and register at

Want to fully fund your nonprofit? Here’s a key: create diversified revenue streams.
Having diversified revenue streams means you have money coming in from a variety of sources. It creates stability and keeps you from being overly dependent on one source of funding, which is dangerous.

The problem with sole-source funding

I had a client several years ago that funded most of their million-dollar budget from a single grant through the State of Tennessee (cue the sad music).  The State starting cutting their budget and grants were reduced. Which meant that this nonprofit was immediately struggling.
They had not prepared for ANY other kind of income – no earned income from programs, no fundraising – nothing. Even though the organization was over 30 years old, they had never really asked anyone for a donation.
It was total heartbreak.  We started fundraising, but it was nearly too little, too late.
Moral of the story? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t rely on sole source funding.

Why you need diversified funding

When you have lots of fundraising strategies working for you, you can lose one and it’s not fatal.
I remember watching this play out after September 11.
I was working at the Food Bank when the planes hit the twin towers. After that, lots of people in Knoxville were donating to various causes benefiting New York City. Lots of us working in fundraising started to get nervous – would our donors give to New York and not us? How much would we be short? What would we do to make up the difference?
I watched my numbers very carefully that year, and I was thrilled when all my best donors sent in their gifts. I remember ONE corporate donor who did not make his usual $10,000 gift to us and instead sent ALL his charitable giving to New York. Since I had money coming in from so many sources, we hardly missed that single gift. I had colleagues who didn’t weather that storm as well and had to deal with some pretty ugly situations.

What good diversified streams looks like

So, what does it look like to have diversified revenue? It might look like a good mix of events, grants, appeals, online giving, monthly giving, and so forth. But even with all that, NO ONE grant, event, or donor makes up more than 30% or so of your total income.
Here’s one way to think about it. Use my 1-10-1000 Rule.
Do 1 event and do it really well. Get multiple corporate sponsors for it. Make it an event that everyone wants to attend. Make a crap-ton of money from the event so that it’s really worth your while.
Get 10 grants. Or more. Just don’t leave any grant money on the table. Get all the grant money you can without letting any single grant be more than 30% of your revenue.
Build a donor base of 1,000 (or more).  Surround your nonprofit with a large pool of supporters who WANT to see you succeed. The more you have, the safer it is for you.
After you build that base, start to segment it. Identify your 10 best donors and build relationships with them. Start a monthly giving program for those people who want to give regularly.
Can you see how stable your income would be if you had all those things in place?
Here’s an example.

Sample Diversified Fundraising


Strategy Goal Projected dollars raised Percent of total
Grants Private foundation grants $15,000 15%
Events Fundraising gala $31,500 32%
Individual donors Feb: Valentine’s appeal

April: Spring appeal

September: Fall appeal

December: Year-end appeal









Giving Tuesday Invite people to give on Dec 1 (Giving Tuesday) $5,000 5%
Calendar Create and sell a calendar $5,000 5%
Program Sponsorship Sponsor the costs of part of the program at $1,200 each $18,000 18%
Marketing Give at least 12 presentations in the community (civic groups, clubs, etc.) $1,800 2%



If any of those streams dropped off, it wouldn’t necessarily be easy, but it could be overcome. You wouldn’t want to lose the event at 32% of revenue, but the better job you do with the appeals, the more those numbers will go up and the event as a percentage of the total will go down. Make sense?

Watch this video as I dig a little further into the Sample Template 




If you’ve never looked at your revenue in terms of streams and calculate each stream as a percentage of the total (like the sample), I encourage you to do that. It’s very eye-opening. You may find that you’re a little too dependent on one source.


Once you choose the fundraising strategies you want to use for the year, get really good at them. This whole concept doesn’t work as well if you’re struggling and nothing feels like it’s working.


If you’re starting from scratch, take it one piece at a time. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if you have lots of streams to build, it will take time.

Be proactive in creating diversified streams. Create a plan and work it. Get organized. And stay committed.


Watch your revenue streams each month to see how they’re doing. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and you’ll want to manage this. Watching the numbers is half the fun!


Creating diversified revenue streams is one of the basics of fundraising that you need to master if you want to fully fund your nonprofit’s good work. Want to learn the rest? Join me for a brand-new training called Founding to Funding, where I’ll teach you how to surround yourself with ideal donors, share words that warm their heart, and ask for a gift at just the right time. Get all the details and register at

Everyone doing fundraising wants the same thing: money.

There are a few other things you may want, like a big donor base, people who give large gifts, and steady, predictable fundraising income.

But, have you ever stopped to think about what your nonprofit donors want?

Do you know why they give to your nonprofit?

Seems like if you want more money from them, it might be good to understand what they want and give it to them. After all, a happy donor is a repeat donor.

So what do nonprofit donors want?

It’s easy to get lazy or to skip over this. You’re busy trying to get things done, marking off items from your list.

I know. I’ve been there.

I remember the days of being a busy Development Director, when I was focused on getting grants submitted, direct mail out the door, and events planned. I didn’t have time to think about what donors wanted. I thought they were just happy to write their check.

That may have been true.  But that was nearly 15 years ago and things have changed.

Nonprofit donors today are smarter. They want more from us.

If you don’t know what your donors want, don’t guess. Find out.

I’ll give you a hint: It’s not just a thank-you letter. And it’s not a key chain or a book mark.

A well-written thank-you letter is important. But it’s just the first step.


Here’s what I believe donors want.

1. They want to know they can trust you. No one wants the charity they support to be the source of a scandal or to close up shop within a year. They want to know you’re dependable, responsible, and will do the work you say you will do.

2. They want to know their money was used wisely. No one wants to see money wasted, especially donors who give you their hard-earned cash. They want to know you can spend it wisely, and manage it well so that you get the most you can from it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be cheap. It means that if you had to sit down face-to-face with your donors and go over your nonprofit’s checkbook, there wouldn’t be anything to feel ashamed of.

3. They want to know lives were changed. People give to help you make change in the world. When donors give, they want to know that you set their gift to work and others were helped as a result. There’s nothing worse than making a donation to a nonprofit and wondering what happened to your money. Trust me, I’ve experienced this. Or making a donation and not hearing from the nonprofit until they show up asking for more money. It’s icky, and it makes me start looking for another nonprofit to support.

4. They want to feel good about their decision to give. Everyone loves to win. We like knowing that we made the right choice. Think about it – how many times have you made a hard decision and then second-guessed yourself about whether it was the right thing to do? Donors are no different. They want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit.

5. They want to feel that they made a difference. One of the biggest reasons people give is to make a difference. Lots of donors can’t stand to see others suffer, and they’re happy to partner with you to change lives. They believe that circumstances CAN be changed and they want to be part of making that happen.

Okay, so if that’s what donors want, have a look and see how you’re giving them to your donors now. If you’re not doing such a hot job, it’s okay. Most nonprofits aren’t. But, as Maya Angelou said “When you know better, do better.” Now that you know, it’s time to do something about it.


Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Freshen up your thank-you letters. Make sure every word in your letter builds trust and helps your donor feel good about giving. That means your letter can’t be self-focused and full of “we do this” and “we do that”.  Make it all about the donor – “Because of your help…” and “you made a difference…”.

2. Send consistent updates. Whether you do this through a newsletter, an update letter, or some other means, let people know what’s happened since they last gave. Give donors meaningful information about how their gift is being used. Again, keep it focused on the donor with info they’ll understand.

3. Offer a tour. If it’s appropriate, offer a tour so donors can see your organization in action. If a tour isn’t practical, shoot a video of your programs and share that with them. If neither of these work for you, get creative and come up with a way to give donors a taste of what your organization is doing.
4. Share stories on social media. This is an easy one. Show the “before” and “after” photos if possible. Talk about what life was like before and what it’s like now. Describe the painful “before” situation and then tell the happy ending. Include photos and video since most social media are built for them.
Brainstorm other ways you can find out what donors want and then give it to them. When donors believe they can trust you, that you’re doing good work, and that they made a good decision to give, they’ll do it again.And isn’t that what YOU want?